While some Northland farms are green, dry summer weather is taking an alarming toll under the grass.
DairyNZ regional manager Tafi Manjala warns rain is needed soon as soil moisture levels in areas south and west of Whangarei are much lower than they have been in the past two years.
"We need at least 50mm of rain to raise soil moisture enough for good pasture growth," Mr Manjala says.
He is advising dairy farmers to monitor rainfall and pasture growth so they can respond to dry conditions.
"Setting trigger points for key actions can reduce the need for drastic measures later," he says.
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) climate scientist Andrew Tait, of Wellington, said soil moisture levels across the North Island, apart from areas of Wellington, Whanganui and Taranaki, were lower than normal for this time of the year.
Usually in January soil moisture levels in Northland were typically half their winter capacity, but this year they were significantly lower at 30 per cent of winter moisture.
Average Northland rainfall for January ranges from 60mm-120mm. But Mr Tait said that from January 1-22, Cape Reinga had 8mm of rain, Kaitaia 5mm, Kerikeri 18mm, Kaikohe 10mm, Dargaville 12mm and Whangarei 6mm.
While getting the present low soil moisture back up to normal levels would require above-average rainfall for the next few weeks, the odds on that happening were not looking good with the Niwa forecast for January-March predicting a 50 per cent chance of near-average rainfall during the three months, a 30 per cent chance of below-average rain and only a 20 per cent chance of above-average rain.
"With only a one in five chance of soil moisture recovering with good rain, a lot of North Island farmers need to think about supplementary feed, de-stocking and other measures to deal with dry conditions," Mr Tait said.
Lyall Preston, who with his brother Garth milks 800 cows on an all-grass operation at Ruawai, didn't need to be told.
"Our farm is the driest it's been for many years. It's quite a concern, but Northland is known to get dry and we've been here before," he said.
"We've been feeding out grass silage for the past 10 days, but production is 8 or 9 per cent down on January last year."
Rob Philip, sharemilker and convenor of DairyNZ's Kokopu discussion group, said he had some PKE supplement on contract so he knew he would be able to keep feeding the herd.
"If we don't get more rain, I will get rid of some of my more obvious culls," he said.